The videogame art

Today’s my day off, so I have a bit of time for some contemplative rambling about nothing.

Does anyone remember the game Vagrant Story? It was a game for the PSX that came out at the end of lifecycle of the system. I happened upon it by chance and was completely captivated by its unique brand of aesthetics and gameplay. I’ve always been curious as to what kind of real world inspiration was drawn for the Vagrant Story universe, so I did a little bit of researching while on one of my excursion to the Met.

Overall, the general aesthetics prominent during the gameplay is definitely 15th~16th century Italian, the period of high Renaissance on verge of crossover to the Baroque, another primarily Italian movement. However, being an artificial construct designed to represent a thematic world, the Vagrant Story and its version of Ivalice show certain interesting qualities while depicting the chronological changes within its own world using the subtle hints in architecture. The 15th~16th century Italian flair of the Vagrant Story universe is used in depiction of the ‘present time’ of the world from the player’s perspectives, against which the story of the forgotten city of Lea Monde and subsequent search for the Gran Grimoire are set. However, as apparent from quite a number of architectural stylings of the older part of the city of Lea Monde, like the Kildean Temple at the center of the city (which is told to have been built at the height of the city and the cult of Mullenkamp’s power, which in terms of the Vagrant Story timeline would possibly be ancient) shows distinct and unmistakable influence of the Byzantium art and architecture. The structure of the deities of the more ancient part of the city, the tiled backgrounds of the inner Kildean Temple, the majestic yet definitely not European or Middle Eastern arches of the walls, towers and ceilings, and the exquisite structure of the central dome of the Kildean Temple where the climatic battle between Ashley Riot and Guildenstern Rosencratz took place shows distinct Byzantine milieu, most likely taken from the real world example of the Hagia Sophia in the city of Constantinople, present day Istanbul. Indeed, the vast underground network of crypts and libraries beneath Lea Monde shows certain unusual Roman influences, putting it squarely within the timeline of the real world Byzantium.

It is somewhat interesting to note that surrounding public quarters of the Lea Monde, unlike specialized constructs like the aforementioned Kildean Temple, displays consistent central and southern European themes, reflecting their real world counterparts where magnificent architectures of old are preserved while the ‘normal’ housings surrounding them change with the times.

The most unique characteristic of the composite civilization of the Vagrant Story, the one that made the study of the real world influence on the Lea Monde architecture so appealing to me in the first place, is the novel use of lighting through out the changes of scenery surrounding the architectural works themselves. No doubt a technical decision was made at the time to compensate for the aging hardware of the PSX, it nonetheless proved to be a genius decision that made the world come alive to the player (thought the music and sound effects also had great part in it).

Within the engine utilized by the Vagrant Story, each scene is placed within a world with its own lighting and default color cue, a sort of universal ambient lighting saturated into every single texture within the scene. It means that for the most part every single cityscape/building in the game was placed within an even greater box of light. This gave each physical locale within the Vagrant Story universe to possess incredible range of lighting effects, each area becoming living and breathing worlds unified by architectural themes. The undercity has the atmosphere of the Styx, and the perpetual sound of running water and shades of bluish darkness accentuated by light sources of different, yet suitable color and scale. The lower Kildean Temple is perpetually basked in burning glow of yellowish crimson sunset, looking out into the violently crashing oceans formed during the violent earthquake of the past, while the red sun hangs suspended in the sky. The upper Kildean Temple makes extensive use of the contrast between the opaque red permeating through the sky and the deep darkness between the falling columns and crumbling extremities, giving us the profound feeling of holiness intermingled with the unspeakable decadence. It clearly displays the theme of eternally dying cathedral for a forgotten deity.

The psychological impact of such brilliant yet low tech use of lighting, and design decisions made to accommodate such lighting condition made profound impression on my then young mind. I still can’t forget the bleak, opaque red sky seen from the upper edge of the Kildean Temple, perpetually bathed in ominous sunset without gradient, the sun itself nowhere to be found. Only the darkness leading to the depths below in stark yet harmonious contrast… It had the ominous qualities of the best of Clifford Still paintings, and it still retains certain nostalgic quality for me.

In terms of realism, Vagrant Story is lacking. Yet I still remember each memorable scenes vividly, enough to draw and write about it despite not having experienced the game in six or seven years. Quite clearly, physical replication of the real does not equate the mind’s perception of the real. There seem to be a few immutable essences of the world that makes an impact of the mind’s eye to perceive that specific information as real (in such light, I am beginning to feel that many of the works of ‘modern art’ to be severely anemic in terms of true contemplature of the real and the simulacra of the real). If true, human perception of ‘beauty’ should be intimately linked with the perception of the outside world by the human cognition. Human cognition, physiology, and the illusive ‘human psyche’ are all interlinked with each other when in light of the aesthetic fulfillment of the self. Mind and body are inseparable when in observance of the world it seems. Beauty might be the brain’s way of propagating through the material world.

Writing this post made me think about a few things of art I would love to see (or, provided that I have the time, do myself). Painting of cityscapes. Just as the artists of the Bohemian era wandered the world painting landscapes (Gustave Courbet comes to mind. Interesting person. I should do a post on him someday), people of today should wander the world and paint cities at its most unexpected and beautiful/hideous moments in time (being that both are aesthetically fulfilling). Or even, take a cue from the Eastern landscape painters. Draw beautiful pictures of imaginary cityscapes, the ones where the viewer can walk through and dwell, perhaps learn a thing or two through the mind’s eye. The artists of the Renaissance were truly genius in this regard, as they succeeded in formularizing geometrically sound yet surreal drawings of buildingscapes that have almost psychological impact upon its viewer, like the ones for the panel at chapel La Bastie D’Urfe. It is rather strange to see no one capitalizing on such style in this age of digital arts.


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